Every four years, the Maryland Disabilities Forum sponsors a “forum” at which Maryland’s candidates for governor present their plans related to Marylanders with disabilities. The events typically draw hundreds of people with disabilities, their family members, advocates, service providers and gubernatorial candidates. But, for the first time in the organization’s history, this year’s event is being cancelled. Why? Because neither Gov. Larry Hogan’s nor Ben Jealous’ campaigns would commit to participating.
The event would have been held on October 5 in Baltimore. Instead of making final preparations, the organizers are busy sending cancellation notices, negotiating with vendors, paying hotel bills for an empty hall and emptying their meager bank account.
Past MDF candidate forums have been known for their civility as attendees welcomed candidates regardless of party affiliation. As in the past, this year’s event was not to be a “debate.” The moderated forum would not have allowed candidates to speak at one another, to question each other, to comment about each other; they would have merely been asked to come on the stage and talk about their positions and plans on disability issues. The candidates were not even required to be on the stage or in the room at the same time. And the questions were to be provided ahead of time! Pretty low risk for all involved.
That the candidates chose not to participate is a big deal and not just to the event organizers. It’s a big deal to the hundreds of people with disabilities who committed to attend. It’s a big deal to the 20 percent of Maryland residents who identify themselves as having a disability. It’s a big deal to the 25 percent of households with a family member with a disability. Multiply that by the number of their family members, advocates, service organizations, neighbors — you get the idea.
We know that there is a battle about debates going on between the candidates (“Who lost the Md. gubernatorial debate? The voters,” Sept. 10). But people deserve to see and hear directly from the candidates for governor. And the MDF event, in particular, was never to be a debate. Surely, the major party candidates for governor know the importance and value of participating in what has been one of the largest voter forums in Maryland.
MDF has been providing the disability community a forum for candidates to share their disability focused initiatives and successes in every Maryland gubernatorial election since 1994. This election is as important as any before it and neither candidate would commit to stand up and tell Marylanders with disabilities what their intentions are for addressing our community.
Just to be clear on what both candidates said no to — if either candidate chose to participate and their opposition refused, they would have had the stage to themselves. What an opportunity lost! But the biggest losers are the citizens of Maryland who will be disadvantaged by not having the opportunity to hear the candidates’ positions on disability matters. And that matters to us!
David Ward, Phoenix
The writer is chairperson of the Maryland Disabilities Forum.